Sunday, November 3, 2013

Today In History - Black Bart's Last Known Stagecoach Robbery

Black Bart, (aka: Charles E. Bowles, Charles E. Bol[l]es and Charles E. Bolton) was born in England, but moved to the USA at the age of 2, started his career of crime at the age of 46. His career of crime spanned from July 26, 1875 through November 3, 1883. He was known as Black Bart The Poet.

When he committed the robberies he was dressed in a black bowler hat, a long black duster and had a flour sack (with eyeholes cut into it) over his head. He was afraid of horses, so much so that when he committed his crimes, he did so while afoot. He was a definitely a different sort of a stagecoach robber, using good manners, clear speech, and never uttering any foul language while robbing Wells Fargo of their loot. Although he armed himself with a shotgun, he never shot anyone while robbing them. His gentlemanly appearance and mannerisms, the fact he stopped and robbed stagecoaches while on foot, and two poems (in which he did use foul language) that he left behind after a couple of robberies gained him the infamy that lasts through today and will probably last for hundreds of years to come.

Black Bart.
James B. Hume, Wells Fargo Detective; his
resemblance to Black Bart is uncanny.

He was shot during his last robbery and was captured not long after that. He admitted to his identity and to his crimes. Oddly enough, it is said that James B. Hume, the Wells Fargo detective who tracked him down, looked enough like Black Bart to have been his twin. Wells Fargo had him prosecuted only for the last of his crimes and he was sentenced to 6 years in San Quentin Prison. He was released from prison early, after 4 years of incarceration, due to good behavior. While in prison his health had turned bad. On his release, in January 1888, he was asked by reporters if he planned to continue his life of crime to which he replied he would not. He was then asked if he would write more poetry to which he replied: "Now, didn't you hear me say that I am through with crime?"

Shortly after his having been freed, he wrote to his wife (whom he had left behind in the Midwest) to tell her he was weary of being shadowed by Wells Fargo men and he wanted to get away from everyone. He was last seen on February 28, 1888 in or around the Palace Hotel in Visalia, CA.

In November 1888, another Wells Fargo stagecoach was robbed by a bandit claiming to be Black Bart. The robber left what would have been Black Bart's third poem at the scene of the crime; however, it was determined that the handwriting did not match that on the previous two poems left behind by Black Bart. Thus the robber of that stagecoach, in 1888, was believed to have been a copycat criminal. Said determination was made by none other than the detective who looked enough like Black Bart to have been his twin. One has to wonder, could that last crime in fact have been committed by Black Bart who, as you will remember from above, had been shot in his hand during his last known robbery in 1883. Was it possible that the wound affected him as to make his handwriting change or that he had to use his other hand to write and that was what made the 1888 poem seem to have been written by another person? I would love to know if he was shot in the hand with which he wrote and if so to have handwriting experts of today examine that last poem and compare it to the previous two.

When I was a kid, and we played good guys and bad guys, Black Bart was my favorite of all the outlaws of the Old West. He remains so today, not that I advise anyone to emulate his life of crime. I guess his first poem has a lot to do with my attraction toward him in as much as it fits the condition of the working man today as opposed to the government full of fine haired sons of bitches:

I've labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you've tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.
—Black Bart, 1877[3]
All the best,
Glenn B